Environment Forum

Why subsidize the surfeit of wind turbines?

WINDMILL FARM SUNRISE

With an oversupply of wind turbines, why are governments subsidizing new manufacturing plants?

In recent years, China has ramped up its efforts to become a world leader in manufacturing and installation of wind turbines.

But the other side of the story is that China has also idled 40 percent of its industrial wind turbine manufacturing capacity as a result of oversupply and plummeting prices.

In Europe, the world’s largest turbine manufacturer, Vestas, announced a bond issue of 600 million euros ($807 million). This is the first bond issue in the company’s history and it was due to slow growth.

Even with an oversupply of manufacturing capacity, and falling prices for wind turbines, taxpayer-funded investment in wind turbine manufacturing by foreign companies in North America has been moving ahead with great fanfare.

Cap and trade not the solution, climate scientist says

Fighting climate change is a huge investment opportunity but not through emissions trading and investors should instead put their money into renewables which will power the economy in the future, says a leading environmental scientist and cap and trade expert.

As yesterday’s walkout by African nations showed, getting anyone to agree on anything at the U.N. Climate Conference is easier said than done. The use of markets to address pollution is no different. Supporters of cap and trade — the system which allows companies or groups who meet their emissions targets to sell their remaining carbon credits — are out in force, but so are the groups who say the scheme prevents less responsible companies from breaking their bad habits.

Scientist Payal Parekh, from International Rivers, has come to Copenhagen to lobby on the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to highlight the failures of the cap and trade system. She said: “We are working here to ensure that we get ambitious reductions in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases so that we can make a smooth and efficient transition to a clean and green economy. This means that we really need to set up a system that rewards innovators as opposed to allowing dirty industries to continue polluting.

Catching rays + cutting emissions

The phrase “catching a few rays” might conjure up images of lying on a sunny beach.

But Germany’s Renewable Energy Act has given that phrase a whole new meaning. I’ve discovered that you can get paid for capturing the sun’s energy on your roof, converting it into CO2-free electricity with the help of special equipment, and feeding it into the grid — and watch the investment yield handsome long-term returns.

The German feed-in tariff system is as simple as it is successful – which is probably why Germany produces as much solar power as the rest of the world combined. German utilities are obliged under the Renewable Energy Act to pay above-market feed-in tariffs to producers of photovoltaic or wind energy for a period of 20 years. Germany will add up to 3 gigawatt of PV electricity this year. 

New ‘gold rush’ buzz hits Germany over Sahara solar

A “gold-rush-like” buzz has spread across Germany in the last week over tentative plans to invest the staggering sum of 400 billion euros to harvest solar power in the Sahara for energy users across Europe and northern Africa. Even though European and Mediterranean Union leaders have been exploring and studying for several years the idea of using concentrated solar power (CSP), the Desertec proposition suddenly captivated the public’s attention a week ago when German reinsurer Munich Re announced it had invited blue chip German companies such as Deutsche Bank, Siemens and several major utilities to a July 13 meeting on the project. The 20 companies aim to sign a memorandum of understanding to found the Desertec Industrial Initiative that could be supplying 15 percent of Europe’s electricity in the decades ahead.

Germany’s deputy foreign minister, Guenter Gloser, has been the government’s point man for the project. I had the chance to talk to him about it.

Question: How did this project to turn the sun in the Sahara into electricity for Europe and north African countries get started?
Guenter Gloser: About 15 months ago Germany and France proposed including the solar plan into the list of projects for the Union for the Mediterranean. There were institutions that had already done research and we thought: ‘Why don’t we use this sun belt where there is such an abundance of sunshine as a source of renewable energy?’ Together Germany, France and Egypt put forth this solar plan as one of the six projects for the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership and underscored the fact that it could benefit both sides. It was not an idea where just countries north of the Mediterranean will benefit but rather those countries south of it as well as across the EU would also benefit.

Beyond hybrid green technology – tribrids, quadbrids next?

This portable electric recharging device could be a lifesaver if you break you leg on a windswept mountaintop in the middle of the night and find that your mobile phone battery is dead when you try to call for help.

Of course that’s vanishingly unlikely (and not part of the official sales pitch) but the K3 is an interesting example of “tribrid” technology - using three sources of power. You can plug it into the mains electricity, it has tiny solar panels and a micro wind turbine … Going on sale in June for $99.95, it can charge cell phones, iPods or other electronic devices.

“The K3 allows anyone to charge their devices at any time, anywhere in the world,” said Tod Wagenhals, president of makers Kinesis Industries in Arizona.

In Antarctic base, solar energy and 10 cm commute

On a British Antarctic research station, engineer Andy Binney (pictured above at work) and plumber Adam Gerrard have what must be one of the shortest commutes in the world – 10 cm.

Here is a picture of Andy at work — installing boilers that will be partly powered by solar energy at the Rothera research station in Antarctica — and pointing to the wall behind which he sleeps. For a story about Antarctica shifting to renewable energies, click here.

Andy and Adam share the bedroom behind the 10 cm thick wall. If the boilers play up in the middle of the night, they will even be woken up by the noise.

How much electricity do you use in a year?

It was a disarmingly simple question but, embarrassingly, I didn’t have a clue when first asked that 18 months ago. Even though I’d have to describe myself as a genuine tightwad when it comes to expenditures, I simply had no idea, strangely enough, about how much money my four-person household was spending on electricity — nor how much carbon dioxide was being produced.

Now, after a year of carefully tracking the daily use of electricity, I’ve discovered a bit about when and where power is being used and, in theory, saved — without much pain. It seemed like a no-brainer and it honestly was not hard to cut our consumption by 1,000 kilowatt hours in 2008 to 5,000 kWh — saving about 200 euros and 500 kg of CO2 in the process. There were only minor sacrifices: rigidly turning off “standby” switches and unused lights, pulling plugs on little-used appliances, putting in energy-efficient lightbulbs, using the washing machine sparingly and the dryer only rarely, and replacing an inefficient dishwasher with a low-energy model.

In the past year, we used as little as 4 kWh on some days (in the summer) and as much as 30 on others (in the winter) — although most days were in the 10-to-17 range. Annoyingly, the house “wasted” about 3 kWh per day when we were away on holiday — largely due to the refrigerator, which I’ll be emptying and turning off next time. The 2008 total of 5,000 kWh (which amounted to an electricity bill of about 1,000 euros) isn’t bad for four people (one rule of thumb I’ve seen is 1,500 kWh per person/year) but I’m convinced that usage could be even less (the benchmark of 1,000 kWh per person/year is considered “thrifty”).

Germany’s ‘Sun King’ Asbeck explains solar power for Vatican

Every once in a while you run into someone with so much energy that you find yourself wishing you could plug something into them to tap a bit of that excess power. On a dark, cloudy December afternoon, I spoke to Frank Asbeck, the chairman of SolarWorld and dubbed the “Sonnenkoenig” (Sun King) by a leading newspaper in his native Germany for turning an idea (mass use of photovoltaic) into a multi-billion euro corporation with 2,500 employees — in little over a decade.

Asbeck, 49, easily the most entertaining chief executive I’ve met in Germany, lit up the room with a 90-minute surge of ideas, witty comments and untempered optimism about solar power — a delightful respite from the economic doom and gloom of the current era.

But what especially interested me about him was his trip a day earlier to the Vatican, where he donated 2,400 photovoltaic panels worth 1.2 million euros that will produce enough electricity for the equivalent of 100 households (300 Megawatt hours) each year. So I asked: “Did you donate the solar panels to the Vatican because:

German power boss goes renewables route…at home too

You know the wind is changing for renewables — so to speak — when the head of Europe’s biggest power producer becomes an advocate — and then even decides to reduce his own personal reliance on fossil fuels by powering and heating his new house with photovoltaic and geothermal energies.
Eon’s Wulf Bernotat

Wulf Bernotat, the chief executive of E.ON, admits he became rather belatedly an advocate for renewable energy, even if his company still gets the lion’s share of its 70 billion euros in annual turnover in 30 countries from burning fossil fuels. The reasons for the change of heart? It’s one answer to climate change, it’s the way the political winds were blowing, and there are profits to be made.

“We had a certain reservation about renewables until about a year ago and then we abandoned those reservations because we recognised that renewables are desired politically,” Bernotat said after a recent presentation to a group of journalists in Berlin. “That’s why it’s the right decision for us to get more actively involved.”

Bush’s climate plan: good sense, “Neanderthal”, or both?

A member of Germany’s Alternative Party dressed as a Neanderthal man from 50,000 years ago at an anti-nuclear demonstration in 1996A plan by President George W. Bush to set a distant 2025 ceiling for rising U.S. greenhouse gases has triggered criticisms by Germany that he is coming up with a “Neanderthal” solution to the problem – too little too late.

Most other delegates at 17-nation U.S.-led climate talks in Paris on Thursday and Friday have been far less damning, welcoming the fact that Bush is setting a ceiling for emissions, albeit one that will be a generation after most other rich nations.

German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel’s office called it a plan for losers rather than leaders and denounced it as ”Neanderthal”.

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